The best way to fire somebody

Melissa Korn | Wall Street Journal

Donald Trump’s stern “You’re fired!” may make for good television, but it wins no points among human-resources professionals as a method of terminating anyone’s employment. The experts recommend keeping calm, providing an explanation for the move and allowing the employee to maintain some dignity by sticking to a private setting.

Other tips on making the conversation a little less traumatic:

Say it yourself… The main bearer of bad news should be the employee’s direct manager. Otherwise, an employee may wonder whether the supervisor even supported the decision, and that could raise concerns over the merit of the termination, says Maurice Fitzgerald, an employment lawyer and partner at Strazulo Fitzgerald LLP.

…But bring a witness. Having another manager or HR representative present helps to avoid a game of he-said, she-said if the employee retaliates with legal action. A third party also can ensure that the conversation remains on topic and professional.

Get it in writing. The moments after receiving bad news tend to be a blur, and the employee might not remember details such as how to get that final paycheck or when to sign up for Cobra insurance. Have a written list of information on hand so the employee can process it later.

boxed office

Keep it quick… “This is less of a conversation and more of a notification,” says Halley Bock, chief executive and president of leadership development firm Fierce Inc. Many HR experts suggest capping the meeting at 15 or 20 minutes.

…But be specific. Our imaginations can be our worst enemies, so the more employees know about why they’re being fired, the less likely they are to wonder about more nefarious motives, such as gender or age discrimination. Now is a good time to rehash some of the missteps an employee has made, such as missing sales quotas or ignoring warnings about unprofessional behavior, says Rebecca Regard, human-resources adviser at G&A Partners.

Don’t apologize. Saying you’re sorry suggests that the manager is disappointed with the decision, which could leave the employee wondering whether the firing really was fair. Mr. Fitzgerald says comments like “This is actually a good thing for you” are also inappropriate, since the manager offering such platitudes is still gainfully employed.

Do it on Friday. Or Monday. Or Wednesday. There is no consensus on the best day to fire someone. Fridays make the departure less dramatic but could leave the employee stewing over the weekend; Mondays allow a rapid-response job hunt but highlight that the employee’s calendar is clear for the rest of the week. The answer? Don’t dawdle. Make the notification as soon as you make the decision.

Ms. Korn is a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal in New York. She can be reached at

A version of this article appeared October 29, 2012, on page B8 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Best Ways to Fire Somebody.


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